“We can’t kill our way out of this”

Just finished the latest Cognitive Crucible episode with Ori Brafman (The Starfish and the Spider).

Whether you’ve read the book or not, if you have been in or around military circles for the past twenty years you’ve likely heard the thesis regarding human networks.

Towards the end of the episode, during a discussion about how the military has or has not changed, Ori, quoting military leaders he interacts with, says something which I’ve heard over and over again – also for the past twenty years:

We’re not going to be able to kill our way out of this battle. Lethality is no longer the way we’re going to be able to fix this.

~33:30 mark

He then goes on to talk about whether this might mean we need to do more/better IO, cyber, etc.

We’ve heard this line “we’re not going be able to kill our way out of this” or “kill our way to victory” a lot. And it’s usually a line that is lauded because it seems to indicate the person speaking it understands that the conflict is rife with human dynamics that need to be addressed.

And if we can pull the right levers and adjust the dials just right we can turn this thing around.

I have another take; if the problem we’re facing isn’t one that can be solved with a military solution then perhaps we shouldn’t be using the military to solve it in the first place.

When you mix flawed strategy with gung-ho leaders you get the GWOT effect.

Those leaders – who are intelligent, patriotic, and care about victory – will tear down the world looking for a way to win.

But it’s often a case of the Kobayashi Maru. These are no-win scenarios. It’s like showing up to a baseball game with a basketball team. Sure, you can retool and retrain and take all of the baseball lessons you can – maybe even hire some baseball consultants – but you’re still going to be a basketball team playing baseball.

The best you might be able to do with all of that hokum is keep things going for a while.

“Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow….”

Don’t be fooled – the proximate thing keeping things together in these situations is most often the presence of traditional military capabilities.

And what happens to all of that when those traditional military capabilities are suddenly removed?

In fairness, our system is such that when called upon to execute a mission as part of a greater strategy, you do it. And you do your best to make it work and get results.

But I don’t think we should conflate recognizing the lack of military solutions to a problem with some sort of epiphany that might lead to victory.

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Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ for US troops (1943)

Through one of the internet’s many rabbit holes, I came across this video from 1943 of Judy Garland singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ on the ‘Command Performance‘ program. She is introduced here by Bob Hope.

‘Over the Rainbow’ as a theme seems a universe away from ‘Courtesy of the Red White and Blue‘ so I dug a little further. ‘Over the Rainbow’ debuted in The Wizard of Oz in 1939. It came to be thought of as a symbol of the United States by US troops (Barnet, Nemerov, and Taylor, The Story Behind the Song). Their book makes it seem like it was the go-to anthem during World War II, much like Toby Keith’s song became popular in the years following the September 11th attacks. I haven’t been able to track down any more information on it, though.

‘Over the Rainbow’ would later be named the #1 song in a film of all time by the American Film Institute.

Enjoy.

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